This interview was conducted with Nevers Mumba, President of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), on Friday 16 November 2012, exclusive to Zambia Reports.
You’ve been president of the MMD for nearly six months now. What is different about the party now, and what are your objectives for the future?
To answer that question one has to appreciate the state the party was in when I took over. We had just lost an election, our president had stepped down, and many of our members were being pursued by what would turn out to be false corruption accusations. As the party was demoralized, the first thing to do was to address the malaise.
Among the first things we did was to take the party into retreat, taking a hard brutal look and who we are, how we can perform better, and what it would take to give Zambians a new Movement for Multiparty Democracy. We came up with a number resolutions and established internal committees to address the issues and rebrand the party.
A lot of people did not think we would were going to survive the loss. Some people composed a song they were going to sing for our funeral as a political party. But we survived the loss of the general election. We survived the stepping down of our president. We survived the national convention where we had seven presidential candidates, and a lot of people that that after the convention the party would be split seven ways. But now the party is more united now than it has been in a long time.
So we are seeing a new vibrant enthusiasm among Zambians who have a lot of hope invested in the party.
You announced earlier this week that you intend to appeal against the election results in Mufumbwe in which the PF candidate Stephen Masumba defeated the MMD. What evidence do you have of irregularities?
I think it was very clear that the Patriotic Front did not have any grip in that province, and particularly, in that constituency. There was absolutely no way humanly way possible they could have won that election under a free and fair vote. In the last election, between the MMD and the UPND we had 14,000 votes compared to just 500 for Patriotic Front. Even if the people of Mufumbwe had had a dramatic change of heart, it would still be impossible.
They knew that, we knew that, and the people knew that. So we had to come to a place where we were just guarding our vote. We noticed that about two days before the elections, the whole scenario changed.
About 25 pick up-vehicles arrived to Mufumbwe, going to visit all the polling stations, where they began handing out money to voters using the register. In fact we have video evidence of these PF representatives, handing out cash before and after a resident would vote for them. This video evidence is with our lawyers and will be presented in court.
This is something I have never seen before. I have been involved in politics for 15 years, both as an opposition leader and a government official, and I have never before seen such a flagrant abuse of an electoral system as what was happening in Mufumbwe.
In addition to the vote buying, President Michael Sata visited Mufumbwe and threatened the voters that if they did not elect his candidate, that he would move all development to other provinces. The electoral commission is very clear on this point, and it was quite unfortunate to see the president sink that low to try to generate political mileage.
The government has blamed the MMD for the death of a PF cadre in Rufunsa – what is your response to this?
I think it is very unfortunate that the president chose to mention MMD and UPND in this fracas, because according to our investigations we can prove that there were no MMD members anywhere near that place when it happened.
The story which we have, which has also been confirmed by police and witnesses, is that the PF cadres were given money to share by the leaders, which caused a disagreement. Apparently as they were driving away in their own truck, this particular person fell out of the vehicle, and was armed, from the report we have received. And as there had been many fights out there that day, the villagers allegedly assaulted him, and they may have performed an instant justice on him.
As long as I have been president of the MMD, there has not been on incidence of our members taking up an offensive weapon against someone else, or deliberately attacking other people. I have made this absolutely clear to party members that violence is not going to be part of our agenda. For us to be mentioned in Rufunsa is a very desperate ploy by the PF to dodge responsibility for the violence they have displayed over the years.
President Sata’s history is that of violence – this thing of using machetes, he is the one who introduced it in this country when he was National Secretary of MMD. It is very alien to me; my background is that of a reverend, and I would never delve into anything to do with violence. We distance ourselves from those accusations and we are very upset they have arrested our leaders and put them in cells on trumped up charges. We think that the PF must face themselves and take responsibility, that violence is in their DNA, and if we don’t stop it, we might be losing more lives in the future.
At present, at least nine MMD members have been given jobs as deputy ministers under the PF government, and as such, have voted in unison with PF in the parliament. Others have simply switched parties, such as Stephen Masumba. Can a party function when its members appear to act on behalf of another party?
The MMD has made its position very clear. From the word go, we felt that the president’s intention was to injure democracy in the country, and to derail the democratic process which has run so well since 1991.
His goal is to become the almighty party, in the hope that he could build a replica of the one-party state. When he realized that he did not have the numbers in parliament to push through legislation that we felt was not good for Zambia, he realized that the only way to do it is to start to poach members from the opposition.
He targeted those members who had cases in the courts of law, whose seats were being petitioned by that same government. He went to those same people, who were very vulnerable and unsure of what the results of their cases would be, and he said ‘if you work for us we may drop those cases in court.’ So a lot of them wanted to stabilize themselves economically, others were weak-hearted and decided to take the bite of that bait.
What it means now is that the president could have approached me. He could have said, ‘Nevers, I need some help. I don’t think we have enough good material amongst our members, but I think your team has material that we can use to build this country.’
We could have negotiated with him and provided him with one or several different people, but we could have agreed over how to operate. We would agree that when there is a bill in the house, and the party believes this is the way we should go, that those members of parliament should vote with us, because they are our members of parliament.
But he didn’t want to discuss that. His intention is only to build his numbers, so that the constitution that is going to come can be shot down, only to allow those closest who he feels will work in the interests of the Patriotic Front.
What are your instructions to your MPs? Are they not allowed to work with the PF, or if they do, they must retain loyalty to the party?
Well I think we are dealing with a very tight walk on this issue.
Our position is that it is out of order for our members of parliament to work in the PF government, especially when the government and president is not willing to talk to us or respect us, that we discuss the conditions of how they are going to operate. He is confusing the MPs themselves, he is confusing his own members, and he is confusing his constituencies. They are nowhere, and it is very, very unfortunate that he is failing to engage us on such a serious matter.
Our position is that we have told our members to shun these appointments. Many more have been asked to join the PF party, and they have refused. Even one who heard me speak out strongly on this, resigned the appointment and came back. But others are weak, and some have cases in court, and are afraid of taking that stand.
How is it going working along with the UPND? Do foresee any possibility of an alliance in the future, or are there fundamental ideological differences between the two parties?
The way we have handled our relationship I think we have used the common sense approach. The common sense approach entails that we work together over a period of time on national issues that affect the broader population of people – for instance, we have cooperated in bye elections before, where they have not fielded a candidate or where we have not fielded a candidate, in order to strengthen the opposition base and heighten the chances of the opposition winning the elections.
In the house itself, there are many areas of cooperation, for instance, over the debate of the budget. There are a lot of areas where we feel that the budget falls short of what is required by the Zambian people, and the two parties work together on those matters. We are also working together on the draft constitution, on clauses like 50+1 or the running mate, the government does not want it but the Zambian people want it. So we are going to unite on those important matters, both inside the house and outside the house.
Are we going to work together in terms of us forming one party? I think it is too early for us to make any statement to that effect. I am just happy that so far we are agreeing on these basics, because that’s how you build a relationship.
If you were to meet a Zambian citizen out in the street who has doubts about you, what do you say to them to convince why you are fit to be President of Zambia?
I would like for Zambians to look at my history and my commitment to my country.
My background is that I have been in public life for 27 years, first as a national church leader that worked with all Zambians. And that is a history that proves how we raised that Church from nothing to become an international organization. It shows that we can build something from nothing, something that became internationally renowned. It was a message of hope for Zambia, a message of morality and integrity that I have brought with me into the political arena.
And I think that whatever I have been given to do in the past, I have done it to the best of my ability and I have done well. I think that Zambians know who Nevers Mumba is. I should be judged by my fruit and by my history, and I am glad to the have the opportunity to serve my people in the way that I have.